SALT LAKE CITY — Only a few games into his rookie season, Ben Simmons is already showcasing elite passing skills for the Philadelphia 76ers, elevating him into rare company.
Simmons became just the second NBA player to notch a pair of triple-doubles in his first nine career games when he finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a 121-110 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday. He also dominated on the defensive end, adding three steals and three blocks.
“I’m just happy that we won and the fact I had a triple-double — that’s a bonus,” Simmons said after Philadelphia (5-4) went over the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 13, 2013.
His ability to make plays all over the floor could be the X-factor for the Sixers when they visit the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.
Simmons has exceeded expectations that built up after Philadelphia selected him No. 1 overall in the 2016 draft. A foot injury sidelined him all last season and delayed his official NBA debut.
The 6-foot-10 point guard is quickly making up for lost time.
Through nine games, he is averaging 18.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists.
Simmons came close to netting a triple-double on two other occasions. He finished two assists shy on Oct 21 at Toronto and one shy on Wednesday against Atlanta.
“He just peppers stat sheets,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “He really can litter a stat sheet because of how active and athletic he is.”
Simmons may need to play an even larger role than usual with Joel Embiid and Jerryd Bayless both sitting out against the Jazz. Embiid is resting against Utah, but will is expected to play in the following game against the Sacramento Kings.
Bayless is sidelined indefinitely after injuring his left wrist against the Pacers. It is the same wrist that limited Bayless to nine games last season.
Utah (5-5) is searching for answers after a pair of poor defensive performances in back-to-back losses to Toronto and Houston. The Jazz have allowed 116.3 points per game in three games in November so far.
Both the Raptors and the Rockets shot at least 50 percent from the floor against Utah.
Houston did most of its damage from the perimeter in a 137-110 win over the Jazz on Sunday. The Rockets made 23 3-pointers while shooting 59 percent from the perimeter. James Harden led the way with seven 3-pointers, a major component of his 56-point outburst.
“(Sunday) night was just embarrassing,” Jazz guard Joe Ingles said. “We don’t want to do that again. The performance from top to bottom was pathetic.”
Reserve guard Donovan Mitchell is emerging as a catalyst for Utah’s offense, and the rookie has remained consistent during the two-game losing streak.
Mitchell led the team in scoring three of its past five games while coming off the bench. He is averaging 23.3 points on 44.4 percent shooting in November after averaging only 9.3 points on 32.9 percent shooting in October.
His performance leads to the question of how long it takes before Mitchell becomes a starter. For now, Utah is satisfied with his current developmental path.
“I’m not sure we can play him 48 minutes,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, noting Mitchell has a large role comparable to other top rookies around the league. “We’re not saying he needs to lead us in scoring. We’re not saying he shouldn’t lead us in scoring. We’re just trying to get better and trying to help him get better. He’s gotten better, which is one of the reasons he’s doing that.”
Utah swept the series with Philadelphia for the fourth consecutive season in 2016-17. The Jazz have won nine straight games over the Sixers, dating back to a 99-93 loss on November 16, 2012.